The three seemed to have made their decision much quicker than Isaac anticipated, as Mazelan came knocking on his door the next morning. Mazelan, seemingly in a foul mood, glared at Isaac with a frown for a moment and briefly sighed before speaking to him.
“What gave you the bright idea to do that yesterday?”
‘I guess I’m not dying yet.’
Isaac deduced that he was a pawn too important to throw away for now, seeing it was Mazelan who stood in front of him and not the Ark Royale. Despite Mazelan glaring him down furiously, Isaac got on his feet and yawned as he looked around the room for his coat. Inside one of its pockets was where his cigarettes were placed, and Isaac immediately got ahold of one to smoke.
“So, what’s going to happen now?”
There was a moment of silence. Mazelan continued to look at Isaac with displeasure, but he eventually answered Isaac’s question.
“The Emperor decided to accept all of your conditions.”
Isaac’s face was filled with bewilderment, never suspecting that all of his conditions would be met. Seeing this, Mazelan’s face grew more sullen.
“Why are you so surprised when it was you who made those demands?”
“Because I never thought they’d be accepted. I thought you’d just leave me alone if I acted like a lunatic making ludicrous demands and even resorting to attacking the Ark Royale! Shit! Did I need to go even further?”
“… So you’re telling me that you were planning to go back to your leisurely life by making demands we were likely to refuse? Is that what your warning meant?”
“Of course! Why should I bother to work? I’ve been doing fine all this time until now! Hng. I doubt I can go back on my demands now… Is there any way for me to find a quiet rural life?”
Fury was set ablaze in Mazelan’s eyes, seeing Isaac childishly complain about the situation. His hands curled tightly into a fist.
Just how… how much suffering did he go through because of him… The entirety of the Ark Royale revolted hearing that one of their comrades was attacked. They argued that an attack on one of them was equivalent to an assassination attempt on the Emperor. Only after both the Emperor and the Queen joined forces could they be stopped. The situation was so dire that the Emperor pondered heavily between Isaac’s life and the abolishment of Ark Royale, considering their unmanageably frenzied state. Here Mazelan was, staying up all night to guard Isaac in case the Ark Royale attempted to ambush him in sleep, yet the beneficiary of such effort had the audacity to say that after having the best rest of his life.
Mazelan stared at Isaac like a predator watching its prey, his fury clearly expressed in his shaking fists. But with great effort, Mazelan managed to calm his beating heart and spoke.
“We will accept all of the conditions you have asked for. But, we agreed unanimously that there must be a mechanism to control you, who is beyond what we would consider insane.”
“A mechanism to control me? Are you going to put a leash on my neck?”
“… As much as I’d like to, we instead decided to deploy some men of our own who will act as both an advisor and Central’s contact in the battalion you will create.”
“So you’ll watch me at all times from my sides. Didn’t I say I won’t accept it if it isn’t exactly as I wished?”
“The agents Central will pick as advisors won’t be part of the men you can use as you wish, like you said. But, they will also never stop you or interfere with your actions. They will simply watch and report everything you do to Central.”
Isaac rubbed his chin pondering on what Mazelan said. He could understand why they’d be so upfront about keeping their eyes on him. Even Isaac himself wouldn’t let a mad dog like himself roam about freely. It was an acceptable condition.
“Fine. It’s much better than having a leash on my neck. I’ll yield this time.”
Isaac acted as if he was doing this out of good will, which irritated Mazelan. It was because of him that Mazelan was relegated from his place as the vice commissioner of the Department of Supplies. Instead, he was stuck in his room, toiling on paperwork regarding Central’s activity. It was true the work of Central was more important than the Department of Supplies, but the problem was that there was now a record that he had been relegated.
His mother, Charlotte, was a civilian who knew nothing about work regarding Central. She would always weep softly whenever she saw Mazelan, who was locked away at home while also being the centre of all the bad rumours in socials. It drove Mazelan mad as a son, but he couldn’t even let her know what the situation was. All he could do was bear with it as his mind agonized in frustration.
Yet the cause of all this misfortune was acting as if he was doing Mazelan a favour. Mazelan began to think that he was bound to die from what the other world called ‘stress’ one day. Yet Isaac, unaware of Mazelan’s thought, asked a question that just came to his mind.
“So how did you sort out the mess regarding my kidnapping? I am somewhat of a celebrity if I say so myself, so it should have made quite the news. Has it been concluded with the fact that I was kidnapped?”
“Don’t worry about it. Publically, you have returned to New Port City after forfeiting your inheritance from the Rondart family.”
“One of the demonic turncoats that infiltrated Central was part of the Directorate of Strategy. It was his order forcing the Directorate of Strategy to plan your kidnapping. Currently, your substitute is active in New Port City. There couldn’t have been anyone else easier to replace than you. Everyone around you considered everything was normal when the substitute stayed locked inside at home without moving an inch. How could you be so lazy that no one would doubt it?”
“Aha! Is that how this goes? I have been repeating myself that I wanted to live a quiet life in a small village, so no one would suspect anything if I were to disappear after my time as administrator was to finish. There wouldn’t be anyone who’d actually look for me either, so making me disappear would have been simple. Seems like these guys from the Directorate of Strategy are quite smart.”
Isaac applauded in admiration, which Mazelan met with a sigh.
“Sigh, can you just stay put and not cause a scene?”
“Don’t worry. I’m the type who loves to train others but hates being trained myself.”
“… How is that any different from loving to hurt others while hating to be hurt yourself?”
Mazelan criticised Isaac, who acted as if he didn’t hear it.
“Ah! Now that I think about it, I forgot to talk about the conditions for my employment. Well, I’ve got plenty of money, so you can just pay me a normal salary. But I want only 5 work days a week, a guarantee that I can leave at 6 p.m. no matter what, and 60 days of leave every year. Of course, if I have to work overnight, you will have to pay me overtime.”
“Do you think this is some office job? What do you mean you get to leave at 6 p.m. no matter what! And 60 days of leave every year? Even I get only 15 days of leave! And I don’t even get to use most of it!”
“Then I’m not going to work.”
Isaac turned his face away with a pout, which pushed Mazelan over the edge.
“Shut up! We’ve already accepted the conditions! Do you really think you can make additional demands at this point?”
Mazelan shouted, and with that, he marched out the room fuming with rage. With the door slamming behind him, Isaac smirked and mumbled to himself.
“Did I go a little too far?”
Mazelan was perhaps the first person in this world that was friendly to him. Yet the fact that even he made no mention of his safety or wellbeing irked Isaac’s heart.
Perhaps it was pointless at this point. What little affinity he has with Isaac was bound to fall off after seeing what he was going to do from now on. No, he will grow to despise him. His life was meant to be hated by others.
With Mazelan being the last visitor, Isaac was left alone in his room. But Isaac didn’t feel lonely. In fact, he appreciated all the free time he had to imagine how he was going to screw this fucked-up world.
And the conclusion he arrived was that he had only just taken his first step, and he was still lacking in information. All he could do was to create a very broad and flexible basis for now, and that it was going to be impossible alone.
He couldn’t trust anyone. And the information he received from those he couldn’t trust was included. Even if everyone says it’s true, it wasn’t completely so until he saw it himself with his own eyes. That was why Isaac couldn’t trust that all the talk regarding heaven and hell as fact.
An individual couldn’t win against an organisation, especially if that organisation was the size of a nation. There was a limit to what a single person can do. Of course, in novels, protagonists and heroes would start the story by easily destroying an organisation alone, but he wasn’t an overpowered individual from such stories.
In order to fight against an organisation, he must create an organisation first. But he had a critical handicap; whatever force he was to make was likely to turn their backs on him with a single word from Central. It was going to be a difficult battle.
There was the option of joining a different faction as their subordinate and gaining their protection, but there wasn’t an ideal faction which he could cling onto for now. Knowing who to follow is the rule of thumb in rising through the ranks of any organisation. Yet all of these factions were busy trying to use him in their political struggles, so that option was impossible.
In fact, the very reason he wanted to screw this world was because of the political games that roped him in as a pawn so joining a faction and climbing through their ranks was out of consideration.
It had been five days since he was locked in this room, and they were dull ones. All he could do was roll on his bed, smoke and eat. There was a maid who delivered food to him for every meal, but she must have heard something about Isaac. Whatever the rumour was, it made her quiver in fear whenever their eyes met. If Isaac even tried to utter a single word she would act as if she was about to cry, making it impossible for him to strike any conversation.
Enough time had passed that all of his plans had been made, and now he was more occupied with how to waste his time. Suddenly, Ark Royales barged into the room. Isaac first thought that they finally caused a scene, unable to hold onto their anger. But they were unexpectedly calm, even polite. They courteously led Isaac away from the room, saying the Queen would like to see him.
Surprised by their sudden change of attitude, Isaac left the room with them in bewilderment. Outside the room was Mazelan, who glared at Isaac in anger.
“Do you have a problem with me?”
“You… no. How could this be your fault. It’s just the world that has gone mad.”
Mazelan sighed like an old man who had given up on everything as he spoke.
“Preparations are over. The Queen would like to see you before you leave for New Port City today. Go.”
Isaac watched Mazelan stumble away with drooped shoulders with curiosity at first, but he quickly shrugged it away and walked to the laboratory, enjoying the exhibitions arranged throughout the corridor leading to the laboratory. It was interesting, no matter how many times he walked through it.
“Seriously, the very first thing you did was to cause such a scene.”
Yoo-rah said with a face drenched in exhaustion, which Isaac noticed in a split second.
“You seem tired.”
“And whose fault do you think that is? Have you any idea how exhausting it was for me, who spent multiple nights without any sleep reprogramming the Ark Royale?”
Yoo-rah shouted out in anger in response to Isaac’s attempt to comfort her. Isaac couldn’t help but feel curious at Yoo-rah’s words.
“Reprogramming? Are the Ark Royale robots or something?”
Now, Yoo-rah was the one confused at the situation.
“Didn’t I tell you before?”
“This is my first time hearing it.”
Yoo-rah shrugged her shoulders.
“You could say the Ark Royale are victims in a way.”
“Yes. Once, we were lucky enough to terminate both the Hero and the Angel before they reached the stage of war. But the problem was those left behind. The normal believers would resolve themselves with time, but followers and fanatics had no hope of recovery. Normally, we would simply eliminate them all, but the birth of Ark Royale was a little special, so there were many who voted to let them live.”
“How was it special?”
“The hero found out about the angel’s plan, and they killed each other in battle. You could say ‘two dogs fought over a bone and a third one carried it away.’ But these followers and fanatics had completely lost their minds seeing their hero and angel they worshiped fight against each other.”
“Wait. So this Ark Royale was originally followers and fanatic believers?”
“In that time, the Empire had taken a significant blow and needed a loyal armed force. That was how the Ark Royale was founded. In their blank state of mind, we replaced the image of the hero and angel with that of the Emperor and royal family.”
It now made sense to Isaac. This Ark Royale moved in such a peculiar way, too odd to be knights who protected the Emperor at his side. They were machines that moved as were programmed, without a shred of common sense or ability to read the mood. They never considered the consequences their actions would cause or any political reasoning. They only accepted and reacted to what they saw in front of them.
“So what do you mean by reprogramming?”
“Truth is, when the Ark Royale was first created, we needed them to be strong and single-minded in their objective, but that was the old days and not the present time. There have been many voices that complained that although they were necessary, they were too radical in their actions. And you Joon-young, I mean Isaac, shone a light to that problem, and the only way to resolve the situation was to reprogram them.”
“I hear the Ark Royale have been in service for a long time. How are they being sustained all this time?”
“That is why we fear the angels. Once brainwashed, these fanatics and followers care nothing but to be loyal to their chosen one. Even their reasoning to create a family is to continue the line of service across generations, all for the idol… So the children born under them are brainwashed and trained since young to become the next Ark Royales. There is no other life for them. If they lack the capabilities to become an Ark Royale or refuse, the father kills the child. The Empire had stayed quiet about it because it provided them with a powerful combat force for free. But as the generations passed, their brainwashing began to shift in a strange way. They began disobeying the Emperor while simultaneously saying that it was for the good of the Emperor. This was why there were voices calling for their reprogramming, but there were arguments that their brainwashing would be dispelled during the reprogramming. It was a problem that had been delayed until the decision was made to reprogram them because of you.”
Basically, they were used for generations just because they had their uses. Although pitiful, he had no urge to involve himself in it. It wasn’t something that concerned him, and he wasn’t the type to nose into someone else’s business. Isaac shrugged and spoke to Yoo-rah.
“So why did you call me?”
Yoo-rah boasted in response to Isaac’s question.
“There won’t be anyone who’d dare make light of you from now on.”
Isaac tilted his head in confusion, and Yoo-rah grinned as she continued.
“Now that you decided to work as part of Central, there was a lot of debate regarding which position you would have. So despite how busy I was, I flexed my authority somewhat. You are now Central’s Director of Security.”
“… What’s with that awful name? Sounds like the whole thing was made in a rush.”
Yoo-rah too slightly turned away with slight embarrassment when Isaac responded with disappointment at its name.
“It is newly founded just for you, Isaac. You basically deal with the security of the Middle World.”
“What am I, some security guard…”
Isaac grumbled. Yoo-rah quickly added more to her explanation.
“Even the Dark Royale is just a part of the Directorate of Strategy on paper. Founding a whole new Directorate has never happened until now!”
Yoo-rah excitedly rattled off an explanation. To put it briefly, on top of three directorates which were Strategy, Analysis, and Surveillance of Central, now there was the Directorate of Security was newly founded with Isaac at the head.
“How high is the seat of Director?”
“Since its founding, Central’s work has been distributed to three separate offices.”
“So on paper, I am the same rank as the other Directors?”
“And there are only 3 Directors in all of Central?”
“So it’s nepotism?”
“Well, you could say it like that but…”
Yoo-rah’s shoulders slumped at Isaac’s remark.
No wonder Mazelan was giving Isaac the evil eye. It was a logical reaction. Even if there was no real power, Isaac was still a Director on paper. No one would like it if someone who was their subordinate suddenly shot up the ranks, surpassing them.
Although most would simply ignore and even look down on his rank because of the lack of substance, what was important was that he was a Director on paper. There may be fools who’d throw their weight around using their title before being ridiculed and put in their place. But Isaac was confident that he could put someone who irritated him in deep trouble just by using this title alone. But he wasn’t going to use that card on anyone for now. Not only was it annoying, but he needed to make only a few examples to enforce obedience on the front at the very least, even if they still hate him in their heart.
“Well, it’s better to have as much power and as little responsibility.”
Yoo-rah burst out in shrill laughter. Isaac’s spine chilled watching Yoo-rah. He wasn’t that enlightened in the way of psychology, but he personally experienced how fragile a human mind is fighting in the war. Keeping her sanity after living for 300 years? Impossible. That was even more of a reason that the exaggerated laughter from Yoo-rah seemed so chilling.
“Was that the reason why you brought me here?”
Isaac asked, and Yoo-rah shot a mean look back at him.
“Are you even aware that the Empire almost split into two and was about to be embroiled in civil war because of you?”
“A civil war? I thought no one could ignore the might of Central?”
“There is one. A faction so strong that neither the Empire nor Central could interfere with.”
“Who is that?”
Yoo-rah smiled mischievously as she answered.
“It’s a family you have a deep connection with. The Dukedom of Pendleton.”
“… I knew that dukedom was powerful, but it should still be nothing compared to the might of the Empire. And with the help of Central, wouldn’t their title as a dukedom be effortlessly neutralized?”
“That would be the case if it were any other noble families. But the Dukedom of Pendleton is a land you cannot suppress with just might.”
“Why is that?”
“Because the founder of the Pendleton family was an invader.”
“… I don’t understand. How could the Empire simply watch and let an invader create a dukedom when they usually treat them like resources?”
“The Empire had let their guard down. It was the Empire who benefitted the most from the treaty regarding invaders because of my knowledge. But an incident lit a fire underneath their feet. One of the noble family members happened to be a type 2 invader.”
“If it’s type 2, they were born into this world with the memories of their previous lives, right?”
“Correct. That person showed no signs or evidence of that fact and simply grew as a bright and talented individual and was naturally recruited into Central. After going through the introduction you just went through, he declared his identity as Type 2 invader on the spot and registered all of his knowledge. Not in the name of the Empire, but himself.”
“… That must have been chaos.”
“Of course. It was one of the Three Great Incidents that threw Central off its feet. Central is a confederation of sentient races. There was dissension between the races and fierce rivalries in the shadows to gain superiority over the other. There are, of course, many races that were envious of humans, who held the most power. Seeing that there was likely a civil war was about to happen between the humans, the other races decided to stay out of it. They used the treaty as their excuse and said that the humans should sort out their own mess. The Empire, of course, wanted to destroy that noble family on the spot, but the copyright treaty held them back. The invader possessed many pieces of information useful to the Empire. If the invader were to request assistance from other races to fight the Empire’s pressure, that other race would gain access to the information instead. Turns out the invader had a master’s degree in engineering. The Empire was put on a spot since it was a field completely outside my field of knowledge. Whilst the Empire was busy considering what to do, the invader made an offer.”
“An offer? They decided to assist the Empire?”
“That’s right. Instead of providing all of the information, he requested to become the 2nd seat in the Empire, and the Empire had no choice but to accept. It seems that this world is the same as ours; everyone goes green with envy at the sight of others’ success.”
“Is that how the Pendleton family came to be?”
“That’s right. The only dukedom that is inherited by blood. Using its grand fiefdom and knowledge, they started many merchandise lines to consolidate financial power. Their military power is equal to half of the Empire’s, having more than ten knightly orders serving under them. They are a kingdom nobody knows of.”
“The Empire simply let that happen? I’m sure they felt the back of their head tingle after this.”
“That is why the Pendletons used some of their knowledge as incentive to bring in Central. They asked for a new seat as well.”
“Like I said before, Central is largely split into the Departments of Analysis, Strategy, and Surveillance. The Empire holds the right to elect the Director of Analysis, the Pendletons have the right to do the same for the Directorate of Strategy, and the remaining races choose the most suitable candidate to lead the Director of Surveillance. It is what you’d call a triumvirate.”
“So they rival each other. But what was the reason Central accepted the offer? Even if the Pendletons provided knowledge, doesn’t it need to be shared with all of the other races?”
“Do you know this saying? Humans are humans no matter where they are. There are many races that live for hundreds of years. There are survivors of the 7 Days of Calamity, which is but a mere legend to the humans. And these races that lived prior to the 7 Days of Calamity didn’t have great relations with humans. The current balance of power may make humans passive for now, but they worry about what humans would do when the balance of power tips in our favour.”
“That’s something I can’t argue against.”
Humans being humans. It has many meanings inside it. The human world is where the good, the bad, and the strange are mixed together. They may be equals for now, but someday they may be hunted down and treated as slaves. Their proof was the expeditionary force. There was nothing to convince that the humans of this world were any different, which was why they distrusted the humans as a race.
“It was an offer the Empire couldn’t accept, but Central joined forces with the Pendletons. The more the humans fight one another, the safer it becomes to the other races. The Empire reluctantly accepted the offer under Central’s influence, but they couldn’t help but to engrave the lesson deep into their hearts. That humans are humans no matter where they are.”
“The Empire did not want a repeat of the Pendleton Crisis. They also felt the need to consolidate military power. Truth is, that was the reason why the Ark Royale was founded. The Empire continued in their efforts to strengthen the authority of the Emperor, which is why they are now treated as almost divine in power.”
“So how is that anything to do with me causing a civil war?”
Yoo-rah made a big smile in response.
“Because Rivelia was selected to watch and control you as Vice-Director.”
“And the current Duke Pendleton is well known for his overprotective personality. Honestly, you have no idea how difficult it was to calm and convince him; he threw a tantrum and declared war outright. So please, treat her well and don’t bully that cute damsel too much. I’m not joking when I say that Duke Pendleton is a man who will declare war if the conditions are met. And he has many vassals who are just as loyal to him as the Ark Royale. It’ll be impossible to stop the Expeditionary Force if the Empire and Pendletons were to be embroiled in civil war. You know what will happen after that right?”